Both teams come into this game virtually in the same spot: 3rd place in their division, with about a 25% chance of making the playoffs according to Football Outsiders. However, they’re coming off very different results from last week. The Broncos are off a win that was never in question vs. the Lions, whereas the Bengals are off a close loss to the 49ers.
Ryan’s Season Totals
Assigned Games: 19-16-1
Best Bets: 25-15, Up 1228%
- Opening Line: Denver -1.5
- Current Line: Denver -2.5
- Over/Under: 43.5
- Location: Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO
- Start Time: 4:05 PM EST, SUN 12/19
- Last Meeting: Broncos, 24, Bengals 10 at Cincinnati in 2018
The Broncos have had a bit of an up-and-down season. Albeit a predictive one. With the addition of Teddy Bridewater, and a strong start to the year, fans had hope. Yet the strong early season performances were propped up by weak opponents, which made the upcoming “backslide” appear more like a “back to earth situation” for a middle of the road team. Then, came upsets over two strong teams: the Cowboys and Chargers. Hence its tough to truly pinpoint where this team “is”, sitting at a very mediocre 18th by DVOA. At this point in the season the most noteworthy datapoint for the Broncos is how far their defense has dropped. After peaking at a PFF grade of 70.6 (5th in NFL) after week 5, they have now fallen to 60.9 (25th in NFL).
As for the 19th rated Bengals, they come in off two losses that have completely changed their playoff outlook (not to mention public and market perception). For a team that was battling for a division crown two weeks ago, they now have a legitimate uphill battle to even make the postseason. What stands out most to me about this squad is their coach, Zac Taylor, and his futility. Can you believe he has now led in 35 of his 46 games he’s coached in the NFL? And I’m not pointing that out to prove any type of regression is coming but to help support the claim, he just isn’t a good coach. Good coaches close games and negate regressive forces.
Interestingly, Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus have very different opinions of the Bengals season-long performance thus far. As mentioned Football Outsider’s has the Bengals coming in at a “middle-of-the-road” 18th ranking, whereas PFF has the team as the 6th best in the league! For two trusted analytics sources, you rarely see this kind of discrepancy in performance metrics.
- The Bengals are 6-7 against the spread this season.
- Denver is 3-2 against the spread as a home favorite this season.
- The UNDER is 10-3 in the Broncos’ 13 games this season.
Despite a relatively strong home field advantage from Head Referee Adrian Hill (almost 5 percentage points less penalties called on home teams), we think a different relative matchup advantage will determine this game: NET QB vs Blitz performance (QB1 Net EPA/Play Blitz vs NOT Blitzed x Opponent 2 expected Blitz Rate / QB2 Net EPA/Play Blitz vs NOT Blitzed x Opponent 1 expected Blitz Rate). To put it succinctly: Joe Burrow’s ability vs. the Blitz (5th best according to SIS), and how much the Broncos send a blitz (9th most in NFL) vs. Teddy Bridewaters ability when NOT blitzed (11% success rate points worse), and how LITTLE the Bengals send the blitz, together has us leaning in the Bengals favor (i.e. 2 predictive independent QB Matchup stats that both point in one team’s favor).
Prediction: Bengals 27, Broncos 24The Picks: Bengals +2.5 (buy the ½ point), OVER 43.5